UNDER WATER, UNDER ROCK
Genanne Walsh

Tracy’s been sleeping in the car and her hamstrings are stiff. Her shoulders are hunched, taking on the curve of the seats. Stepping out, she stretches her arms overhead, then looks down. There is blood on her shoe and she bends to scrape it off—a tiny square on the corner of the toe where the sole meets the air, exposed. Is it blood? Maybe just mud, though its oxblood color doesn’t match the mud in Klamath or anywhere else she’s been. She flicks at the stain with a thumbnail, and as she straightens her back, her muscles feel like unoiled gears, grinding. She is only seventeen; she’s never had to think about her muscles before. She wants a shower, and a bed.

There is a roll of bills jammed into the deepest corner of the glove compartment. She pulls it out and smoothes each bill on the seat as she counts. Why hasn’t she counted it before? Maybe she has a vague, suspicious feeling that once she’s counted it, it will start to disappear. Counting is a prelude to spending. And she doesn’t want to spend it, hasn’t thought that far ahead. She wants to have it.

Six hundred. There is a crack in the woods behind her, as if something has stepped on a branch. She flutters the money together, rolls it up, and shoves it back into the dark maw of the glove box. She can afford a cheap motel. She will live simply and quietly while she decides what to do about the stomach. She is fairly certain she is pregnant—no period for over two months. She curls into vinyl-covered car seats and wraps her arms around her torso, willing her body to recognize itself again.

There is a thin line of dirt under each of her fingernails. No matter how short she clips them, she can’t seem to get rid of it. What would she see if she put it under a microscope? Her skin is dusty from the river and no lotion. Tiny dry flakes swirl every time she scratches her arm, brushes her thigh against the car seat. Her hair is dull and dry, too—unwashed river hair. Strange how the river water makes her so dry. When she buys some lotion and puts it on, it soaks into her skin fast as spilled water on hot sand. Her skin is always warm. She has never felt less like herself. Queasy stomach, creaky joints—who is she becoming?

She checks in under a name not her own. In the motel room, she presses her fingers to the window before she draws the blinds, and leaves behind smeary prints—identifiable swirls of flesh on glass. Wipe them off, Jim would say, if he could see her now. But he can’t.

At night, lying on the double bed with blue light seeping in between the curtains, she pulls her shirt up and looks at her belly. Unlike the stomach in her dream, it looks no different: barely curved, the beginnings of a crescent moon poking from behind a caul of clouds. She can’t see the real moon—the lights are too bright, and she doesn’t venture past the buzzing electric light circle outside her door. She is waiting for time to pass. The television sound is turned down. She watches the people on the screen, moving and running and talking. She lies diagonally across the bed, head pointed toward the dank-smelling bathroom. She’s been heaving all day. Time has slowed and spun out here. Things are unraveled. She looks at her torso, and it does not seem part of her. She chews a cold piece of pizza and cannot taste it, but the dry heaves start anyway.

It is late summer, still warm, the tepid air from the vent blows on her skin. It’s lonely work, waiting for time to pass. And although she is still, she is very, very tired. Too tired to wish herself someone else. Even the flickering lights of the TV take too much energy. Their flashing lips and bright colors, the smoothness of their skin. The fact of their bodies, moving and mating and dying. Instead, she focuses on the inanimate objects. The TV itself, the soda machine, the smooth chrome sink faucet. She batters her mind against them until their impermeable shells become permeable, and she shuffles into them, curling into their inner workings like a ghost. They won’t hold her for long. Her gaze always comes back to the ceiling, the light moving across it, her stomach on the bed.

Then one night she steps outside, onto a sea of black macadam. It is a quiet night, a weeknight, and she can see the lights from the motel office and feel the light over the door at her back. But if she walks far enough into the parking lot, she is in total darkness. The moon above is almost full—it hangs overhead like a plum in an orchard. It looks graspable, something she could pluck between two fingers and place on her tongue. She wants to put it in her mouth. Stretching an arm up, she can almost cup it in her palm. It is the first natural light she’s seen in over a week. She wants to see it reflected off the river. So she gets in her car and drives, feeling like she’d forgotten all the basic mechanics of driving that had become instinctive. The car smells alien. The steering wheel is cold under her palms. There is a place not far off the road, where the river sways up closer—a flirtatious loop of curiosity, before it dips away to follow its languid path. This is where she goes. It is late, no on else is parked in the gravelly dirt overlooking the water. She gets out, everything lit clear as day, but in stark relief.

She stands on the wide bank looking at the water, and at the whiteness of the moon gliding on its surface. If she had a long-handled net, she could scoop it up like a glittering egg sac and put it in a glass jar. The water that isn’t lit is depthless-black. She stands for a while, watching. Then she walks back and forth along the bank, watching the moon shift into different angles. It never settles. It skims, bright and fluid.

The next day, she skips out on her motel bill.

 

Genanne Walsh lives in San Francisco and is at work on the novel excerpted above, as well as a novel-in-stories. Other work has appeared in Swink’s What We Want online issue, and is forthcoming in Puerto del Sol.

 

© 2007 Swink, Inc.